I've been immersed in two different rounds of labour negotiations, so today has been catch-up day, thanks to a blizzard that kept me inside all day. The writing we're seeing in this campaign is really inspiring. I hope you all find this bit of madness binds you to your pilot so tightly that your reaction to virtual combat has the hint of reality -- hence the "deep immersion" title of the campaign.
Maeran, some great shots of LaGorgue. Your description of the place and its initial atmosphere at this part of the war is really good. Wulfe, you continue to impress. I'm glad to see 20 Sqn safely in St-Omer. And great job picking up on the Cafe Vincent and the lovely Jeanne, heroine of many a memoir. I remember reading about her somewhere. Keep your hands off her, though. I saw her first! We're expected some great stuff from those DH2s.
Fullofit, I feel like Gaston is becoming an old friend. The tale of Reille's demise was a shock. 77_Scout: once again, we're thankful Aleck made it back safely. Ace, Drongo is getting closer to his RFC career -- can't wait to see him get his wings. Hasse, you have given us a real sense of who Julius is. I expect some great things from the boy!
Lou, hats off to you for the campaign's first confirmed victory. Your Morane is becoming a bit of a Hun magnet, so please be careful. Same to you, Carrick. Being attacked by several Fokkers is not fun when you're in a BE2.
Anyway, here's the latest from Jim Collins...
An Airman’s Odyssey – by James Arthur Collins Part Eleven: In which I encounter a skittish Fokker, an intransigent Gnome, and a connoisseur of Canadian whiskey
The first week at Auchel passed quickly. No 3 Squadron is devoted to spotting for the guns and, on occasion, photographing the Hun lines, and every day I become a little more at ease with our duties. Major Harvey-Kelly, as our Officer Commanding, is not really supposed to fly over the lines, but he explained to me in the mess that “If I see Huns to the east of my position, I can’t be properly over the lines yet.” His logic would extend the lines to Berlin. Still, it is first-rate to have a commander who leads from the front like the Major. I am told that Major Harvey-Kelly never flies without a potato in his coat pocket. It’s there in case he is shot down, he has said. He plans to use it to bribe the Huns into treating him well.
My first experience with ranging for the guns was on the 15th, when I flew with Russel (whom we call “One-ell”) down to La Basée, just north of Lens. I flew with the Major on one side and Sergeant Bayetto on the other and felt quite safe the whole while.
Spotting is great sport, and as the operation of the wireless set falls to the pilot in a Morane, it is very satisfying. The Parasol allows a wonderful field of vision, and my first task was to find the target. East of La Bassée stood a partially-destroyed enclosed farm in which the Hun had established a battery of field guns. I paid out the antenna wire and made contact. Then I confirmed the location and transmitted the location using the coding on my squared map of the area. We were supporting a siege battery – heavy guns. The first round landed short and off-line right. The drill was to correct the line first. I tapped away. It took two rounds to get the shells on line, and two more to bracket the target. I halved the correction and sent one more transmission. The next round sent up a cloud of red dust from the farm’s roof tiles. I sent “OK” and enjoyed the spectacle as our guns removed the Hun battery from God’s creation. And so we returned for tea and toast.
Russel, my observer, and I were flying alongside Lieutenant Lillywhite and Sergeant McCudden on 17 January 1916. Lillywhite had been a flying instructor at Hendon and had flown in Egypt. He was commissioned from the ranks and had been with the squadron for several months. Sgt McCudden was an interesting man. He’d joined the RFC well before the war as a mechanic and was considered the best we had. He had served with 3 Squadron throughout the early days on the war and the 1914 retreat. But of late he was in the air as an observer more than in the shops, and was highly valued by the officers. He’d been recommended for flying training and expected his travel papers any day.
We spotted two Hun two-seaters. They flew rather close to us before we saw each other. I gave chase for five minutes, following them east over the lines. “One-ell” fired a few bursts at long range, but the hostile machines dived away.
The next day was my first real taste of war fighting in the air. Sergeant Bayetto’s machine and mine were to escort Lillywhite and McCudden on a spotting show near Ypres. We were approaching the lines south of that city when I felt a shove on my shoulder. I looked back at Russel and immediately saw the thin outline of a Fokker monoplane diving on us and only a couple of hundred yards away. Russel fired at the machine as I turned to our right and dived slightly to throw Fritz off his aim. The yellow Hunnish machine passed over us and dived away to the northeast. He quickly headed towards his own side of the lines. I could see Bayetto and Lillywhite being assailed by another Fokker about a mile to the east and I headed in their direction. Their Hun disappeared.
Back at Auchel we found a single bullet hole in the right side of our plane, near the wingtip.
Swanson bagged a Hun on the 17th! It took a day for the confirmation to come in, but it did at last. We had quite a binge that night. The Major is taken aback somewhat at our two Americans’ reluctance to drink. Swanson is not quite the Puritan that our cowboy, Jericho, is but he made a single whiskey and soda last the better part of two hours. I’ll have to take the boys on as a project, I’m thinking. You can never fully trust a man with no public vices.
On 19 January I had another new experience. We were one of three machines escorting Major Harvey-Kelly to the lines west of Lens, where he was photographing the enemy defences. We had scarcely approached the front when the Gnome began making a hellish noise and splattering oil on my windscreen. I switched off and headed west, picking my way between heavy clouds that were dropping a cold drizzle on the sodden trenches below. I had bags of altitude and picked out a nice straight stretch of road south of Bethune to put the machine down.
"I switched off and headed west..."
Bethune, by the way, is a wonderful spot to visit. Swany and Jericho and I have gone into town several times. There are at least a dozen shops where one can find the most excellent pastries, but by far the most popular is a bakery and café called “Café du Globe.” Jericho may not be an accomplished drinker, but in the Globe I have seen the man devour a dozen fancy pastries and drink an entire pot of tea at a sitting. I regret that we are not hut-mates, but my American chums live in a fine wooden hut at the field while I am billeting in the town a few hundred yards away. Still, we get together nearly every night in the mess.
The Grand Place in Béthune, 1914. The Café du Globe can be seen in the background.
On 20 January we flew an uneventful reconnaissance. The highlight of the day came at lunch, when letters from Mum and Dorothy arrived, along with my long-awaited cases of Collins’ Yukon Gold and Berry Brothers’ Ginger Cognac! The Major has condemned the former as “vile rotgut fit only for coolies and Canadians.” The others seem to appreciate its fine nose and warming effect, albeit in alarming quantities. The Ginger, however, has been well received and is hoarded away for special occasions.
 According to Maurice Baring, Maj. Harvey-Kelly also carried a reel of cotton (spool of thread to those in N. America) for the same purpose.
 Robert John Lillywhite came from a proud cricketing family. His great-uncle William invented round-arm bowling, a cousin James represented Sussex and captained England in the inaugural Test of 1876-77. He joined the Royal Navy but was released on medical grounds. He then took his RAeC ticket and instructed at Hendon, both with the Grahame-White school. Enlisting in the RFC in August 1914, he served in Egypt and then in France with 3 Squadron. Injured in a motorcycle accident, he returned to England and was an inspector of RFC aerodromes. In September 1915 he was commissioned and later returned to duty in France.
 The Globe was apparently quite an elegant little place with a piano player. Reserved for officers, it was a favourite of the Prince of Wales and of the poet and historical novelist Robert Graves. The Prince, the future and short-lived Edward VIII, visited the front in late 1915. Graves was an officer in the 3rd Bn, Royal Welch Fusiliers.